Steamboat Springs Granby Mayor Ted Wang said his Grand County town was languishing in the early 1990s.
"We began to realize Granby had a choice to make," Wang told the Steamboat Springs City Council at a special meeting Monday. "It was either grow or die. We aggressively went after annexing properties."
When it was all said and done, Granby ended up annexing 8,000 acres, including a 5,200-acre parcel. Wang was part of a three-member panel Monday aimed at educating Steamboat's City Council as it prepares for an annexation of its own. The other two members were lawyers Jerry Dahl and Munsey Ayers, who have experience representing municipalities and developers, respectively, in land-use matters including annexation.
Steamboat's situation is much different than Granby's. The city is in little danger of going belly-up, and the amount of land it is currently considering for annexation is just 700 acres. But officials still hope to learn from the experiences of a town like Granby. Steamboat has not had an annexation of any significance in two decades.
"We understand that we don't have any experience," Planning Services Manager John Eastman said Friday. "We're going to try and learn from other people's mistakes. We don't have any other option."
Wang said Granby made some mistakes in its first annexations and got better at negotiating them as it went along. That's a luxury Steamboat may not have. Many have cited the Steamboat 700 development west of city limits as the city's last hope to solve its affordable housing problem. The primarily residential development proposes about 2,000 homes as well as commercial properties, parks and other features.
The city of Steamboat Springs is in the process of assembling a negotiation team to work with the developers of Steamboat 700. That team will include Dahl, who confirmed Friday that the city has arranged to retain his services. Both parties need things from each other. Eastman said the city's reason to annex is simple.
"We need housing," he said. "Housing, housing, housing. We need housing for our work force because otherwise we're not going to have a work force. : If we don't expand : I don't know if prices will get as high as Aspen, but that's where they're headed."
Eastman cited a line in the city's Community Development Code that reads, "The community will take measures to allow the majority of people who work in Steamboat Springs or who have lived in and retired in the community, to afford to live in the city if they desire."
"Therefore, we're willing to deal with all the issues," Eastman said.
Those issues include the development's potential negative impacts, such as increased traffic. The goal of the city, Eastman said, will be to make sure the development pays for itself and that any impacts on existing citizens will be offset by benefits to them.
For Steamboat 700, annexation means urban densities and the profits that come along with them.
"There's no other way to build urban density without being in the city," Project Manager Danny Mulcahy said Friday. "The county doesn't want to provide services to urban density."
Although the city and Steamboat 700 have a mutual goal in getting the property annexed, Monday's discussion showed that the negotiation of an annexation will be anything but easy. Dahl and Ayers, revealing the interests of their respective clients, championed different strategies at the panel discussion.
Ayers said the two sides should view the negotiations as a partnership to reach a mutual goal. Dahl sounded a tougher tone.
"You don't have that partnership right at the beginning and you're not obliged to," Dahl said. "Both parties need to earn their way into a partnership. We're not in this together yet. : For me, the whole partnership concept evolves."
Dahl said there are fundamental differences in the ways governments and developers approach the table. Cities have to deal with the impacts of an annexation forever, he said, while developers have a specific timeframe and the bottom line in mind. As such, Dahl downplayed the importance of sticking to a rigid timetable and favored the idea of getting it right, no matter how long it takes. Ayers, on the other hand, said a drawn-out process could threaten a developer's ability to deliver a product.
"Having the project succeed is in everyone's best interest," Ayers said. "There will be, in almost every situation, hard bargaining. But sometimes we confuse the tools that are available to us and the results we'd like to achieve."
On Friday, city planner Jason Peasley said the Steamboat 700 annexation is too complex to predict when it might be finalized, but he said a realistic timeframe is probably 18 months.
Mulcahy said the hardest negotiations will probably be centered on Steamboat 700's community housing and transportation plans. He acknowledged that Steamboat has a bargaining chip in the fact that it is under no obligation to annex any property, but he also noted that the city has formally identified his property as the area where it wants to grow.
Wang's final piece of advice Monday was not to let that fact pressure the city into a deal that isn't in the best interests of the city.
"Don't leave things out on the table during the negotiations unless you really intend to leave them there," Wang said. "Bargain hard. We probably left things on the table the first time around. Don't be afraid to ask and don't be afraid to dig in your heels."